UPDATE: A Calgary woman in her 50s has been confirmed as Alberta’s first presumptive case of the COVID-19 virus. Further details below.
More details on the second case, and the first, can be found here.
The City of Calgary’s Infectious Disease Management Team has been activated for multiple weeks as plans are being prepped should COVID-19 (Coronavirus) continue its global spread and reach Alberta.
This is a team of people from across city administration tasked with coordinating and implementing their Infectious Disease Management Plan.
Even with one presumptive case announced for Calgary and the province saying the threat is low, the city is still taking precautions and have had their eye on the outbreak since the first cases were reported Dec. 31, 2019. There currently are 33 cases in Canada.
Coby Duerr, acting chief of the Calgary Emergency Management Agency (CEMA), said while the public health response is the jurisdiction of Alberta Health Services, their plan is geared to the protection of the city’s essential services and security of the City of Calgary workforce.
COVID-19 (Coronavirus) response triggers
Duerr said the city activates different levels of response based on geographic markers associated with the spread of any infectious disease.
“Obviously, when COVID-19 hit Canada, that raised our concern level and raised our awareness level,” Duerr told LiveWire Calgary.
“That work was more around meeting and making sure that individuals are familiar with the plan that we have in place – our infectious disease management plan – and making sure that we reviewed that plan with certain individuals that have key responsibilities in the City of Calgary.”
The response elevates as it breaches those geographic boundaries, Duerr said. Further preparations are made when the first cases are reported in Alberta, then in Calgary. Then within the City of Calgary and its workforce.
The infectious disease management plan resides within the city’s municipal emergency plan – a general guide for any crisis event that happens in Calgary.
For security reasons, Duerr couldn’t talk about specifics in the execution of the plan but did provide the scope of the city’s response in events like COVID-19.
“Really what it is, is we want to think about these things prior to them happening, and we want to lay out the steps that we can take to support our response to that within our own municipality,” he said.
There are nuances to the appearance of new cases, and how that relates to the response, Duerr said. For example, if there were 100 isolated cases of COVID-19 and they were confined within a certain community, AHS would assess the threat level and pass that information and prescribed actions on to municipalities so they could determine the best way to deal with an emerging threat.
Protecting essential services and the workforce
The overarching plan focuses on protecting and delivering the city’s essential services – Duerr calls them the life-saving services. These services include police, fire and ensuring a safe supply of drinking water.
The rest of the plan for city services cascades from that, Duerr said. Though it’s not what he calls “prescriptive”- there is no exact action when something specific happens. It’s fluid, much like the spread of the virus itself.
“We look at it from a holistic perspective, making sure that those essential services are taken care of, and then we would look at those other services and decide what do we want to maintain and is it best for us to restrict that service at that moment in time, based on the propagation of the COVID-19 virus, in this case, in Calgary,” he said.
Part of the infectious disease management plan does involve the stockpiling of protective equipment in order to maintain those services. Even including sanitary wipes to clean workstations.
The distribution of those items is again directly related to the geographic threat level to the city and the safeguard of essential city services.
They also need to secure the city’s workforce.
“What are the steps that we need to take to make sure that our workforce is safe and they’re secure in their environment and that our workforce has the ability to have some comfort that they’re coming to work where they can work freely from any type of risk,” he said.
Though again, there’s no specific point in time they limit employees’ attendance at work, Duerr did say that there does come a point in time with the spread of the virus that service delivery in Calgary does have restrictions. That would impact the need for employees to come to work.
Communication of COVID-19 information
Duerr said they work closely with AHS to coordinate the response to COVID-19. Public health communication will come from them and the city’s corresponding cues will be directly relative to that public health response.
On March 3, school divisions were provided a letter from Alberta Health that included information and recommendations related to the coronavirus.
Information like this will be left in the hands of the health bodies, Duerr said. Where the City of Calgary gets involved is in the spread of information directly related to the delivery of services.
“You would see messages coming out from the City of Calgary, a lot of those dealing with those maintaining of those essential services, highlighting the fact that, if you call 911, you’re going to get your your call answered. 911 is an essential service within the City of Calgary and we’ll be maintaining that,” he said.
“Those are the types of messages that will be coming out of the City of Calgary.”
They would also be amplifying the messages of AHS.
The AHS COVID-19 message
Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw updated media on the first Alberta case.
The woman had been aboard a Grand Princess cruise ship in California. She is recovering at home, in isolation, with support from public health officials. The woman returned home Feb. 21.
“We take this extremely seriously, and are doing all we can to minimize risk and to keep Albertans safe. While some may be concerned, I remind Albertans that the risk is still low in our province. We are already taking the necessary precautions to prevent the infection from spreading,” Hinshaw said.
Officials are also asking anyone else who may have been on a Grand Princess cruise and returning to Alberta to self-quarantine for 14 days.
Hinshaw said it may take a few days for the national lab in Winnipeg to confirm the coronavirus case.
Frequent hand washing, with soap, covering coughs and sneezes and cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces will help limit the risk of the virus spreading.
Dr. Hinshaw said that it’s always wise to have an emergency stock that will last three days, she said there’s no need to panic buy.
“Instead, I encourage you to plan ahead by examining your routines and what might need to change in the event COVID-19 arrives and you or a family member may need to self-isolate. For example, is there a friend or family member who would be available to help out with grocery shopping and other important errands? Do your grocery store and pharmacy offer delivery services? Are your prescriptions up to date?” Hinshaw said.
“By having these conversations with your family, friends and neighbours, we can all be better prepared and ready to help those in need, without having to empty the shelves at Costco.”
Preparations are in place for the City of Calgary
Duerr reiterated, however, the current COVID-19 threat remains low.
“In all reality, we don’t have a case in Alberta, we don’t have a case in Calgary and we don’t have a case within the City of Calgary (workforce),” he said, prior to the first case being announced.
Along with the prescription to limit the spread coming from AHS, Duerr said it’s important for people to know that the city does have a plan in the event of widespread COVID-19 infection in Calgary.
“The City of Calgary is working on that plan, and the City of Calgary will support our workforce and also support the essential services delivery for the citizens of Calgary,” he said.
“Rest assured that talks are being had now that talk to those later events so that we’re ready and prepared to be in action should we need to.”